Fairytale Fights (Xbox 360)
I really wanted Fairytale Fights to be a groundbreaking experience. When two members of the Playlogic team came over to the house for a demo, they exuded enthusiasm, talent and intelligence. So I wanted them to knock it out of the park. The bits of Fairytale Fights they showed seemed a harbinger of hope, perhaps heralding an underdog game coming pretty much out of nowhere. The physics of the characters felt somewhat like the huggables in LittleBigPlanet; you know, that slow, almost-human loping and cutesy jumping. And the lurid artwork looked like a wondrous kiddie carnival on acid.
I confess: I love fairy tales in general. I always hold dear the idea that there's still a kid inside me somewhere, beyond the cynicism of review-speak and beyond the dreams that tear you apart.
But I loved the humorous violence in these short stories, too. A lot has been made of the fact that Fairytale Fights is ultraviolent. So were the original fairytales. And they were sexy, too. Harvard expert Maria Tatar, who's written numerous books on the subject, points out that some of the Little Red Riding Hood tales have the heroine drinking her grandma's blood and then tantalizing the wolf burlesque-style, by stripping.
Rumpelstiltskin rends himself asunder; Cinderella's stepsisters get their eyes poked out by crows. It's never pretty.
As Tatar wrote in "The Classic Fairy Tales," "This is the Old Testament logic of an eye for an eye. In fairy tales, getting even is the best revenge.'' The same thing goes for most videogames: Vengeance rules. There's no doubt the Brothers Grimm would be M-rated today if they made a game. If fact, they might trump the Houser Brothers.
But this ain't the Brothers Grimm. Fairytale Fights is often just grim, gameplay-wise. You know how you roll your eyes at a role-playing game because you have to fight the same rats over and over again to level up? In this game, the battling and killing get really banal really quickly.
Thankfully, it doesn't start out that way. You'll start out as Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Beanstalk Jack or the Naked Emperor. None of these folks talk. They scream and whimper. When not fighting, they make peaceful, satisfied noises. It's more like LEGO Star Wars or even The Sims. The music can be softly jazzy and Charlie Brown/Vince Guaraldi-like, an elegant touch.
But to start, I wasn't quite sure what was going on in the colorful village into which I was dropped. There, you're supposed to be a fairytale character who's lost his or her fame and has become forgotten. You'll get it back by hacking and slashing and letting blood pour. I got that from the official Web site, but not the game. I mean, I wanted to start the adventure, but it took me almost 10 minutes to find the portal to transport me into the first level.
Once there, the first quest had to do with finding the three bears' porridge container, which had been stolen. On my way, I found an axe and sliced and diced a bunch of axe-wielding lumberjacks. You'll initially like the fact that you cut with the right stick as opposed to a button. Soon, I killed a giant beaver boss, who kept doing the same things to me -- biting me, trying to tip over the raft I was on, and trying to eat me. I hit him on his nose enough. So he died. Then another one attacked and I had to do the same thing.
As I moved along, one of the problems I noticed was that when I was down at the bottom of the screen, action took place beyond the borders of my vision. So when I killed a lumberjack and wanted to take his weapon, I couldn't find either. Also, there was no "lock on" feature for me to aim correctly at one of the plaid-shirted tree-fellers. Instead, you aim inaccurately via the left stick.
So, sometimes, I'd miss, get surrounded and get chopped-up. Honey-like red blood flowed like "Kill Bill" meets Pooh Bear. One of the more imaginative features within the game involves being able to see exactly how you slice up your opponents in real time via a split-screen. You can slice pieces thin as carpaccio. And you have a meter that, when charged, allows you to go Charles Manson-wild on your opponents.
Still, the game isn't really very gruesome, or very funny. It's just mindless cutting and gutting, and that becomes drudgery after a while. You have to solve some puzzles along the way and find levers to pull as the blunderbuss-shooting fairytale folk try to murder you, but there's just not enough variety here. You get to choose from a bunch of weapons, everything from a rolled-up newspaper to a shark skeleton. Some are more powerful, but they all seem to slice and dice in the same way.
Not only is the aiming stick inaccurate, but the camera doesn't show some of the action all that precisely. Say you have a weapon in real life. You see those who would do you harm coming at you. If you closed your eyes and started flailing willy-nilly when they were a foot in front of you, that's the experience you often have in Fairytale Fights. When more than three enemies get near you, you can't really see the action because you're surrounded. The camera angle doesn't change. You're the blind battler.
So the main thing that's missing here, despite the attempt at fracturing these classic fairytales, is the feeling that you're a child again. As Bruno Bettelheim said in "The Uses of Enchantment," the best fairytales "direct the child to discover his identity and calling." As adult game players, you might already know what that is.
But wouldn't it be great if the game really made us feel the goosebump-raising emotion, the triumph of exploration, that comes with the fateful risks and monumental choices fairytale characters have to make? In Fairytale Fights, there are these perfect Candyland environments, so carefully constructed and cocktail jazz that's so different from the arpeggio-filled action games that you always endure.
And then they mostly blow it with game-design flaws. If you're a fairytale nerd who can't get enough Little Red Riding Hood, try the game via rental. If you're a hardcore gamer as most Crispy-ites are, Fry It.
This review is based on a final build of the Xbox 360 game provided by the publisher. The publisher also provided a T-shirt, a small poster and four pieces of candy with the four playable characters etched on them.